Three Recipes Within the Visual

Last month I made a jar of root beer jelly.

Nobody but me’s ever going in the fridge to look for it.  And unless my pooch Crowley grows thumbs, nobody else in this family will ever open the jar to eat it (bless their taste-deficient hearts).  But after I poured it into a jar, I decided it needed a label.

I have this giant, black hole of a junk drawer that I toss stuff into.  I don’t think I’ve actually gone all the way through it, ever.  So, I went mining for labels.

And, I found them—at the bottom.  Along the way, I found at least a hundred photos from the mists of time.  And while looking through them, I found three very beloved recipes that I had made peace with never seeing again.

The first recipe is for the best apple fritters I’ve ever eaten.  I thought I had recreated the recipe, and even shared it in an earlier column.  But it wasn’t even close. 

Mrs. Oldham’s Apple Fritters

2 cups Bisquick

1 large egg

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ cup sugar

Approximately ½ cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

15 gratings of nutmeg

1 large peeled and chopped apple

Oil for frying


Whisk together 3 cups powdered sugar, 3-4 tablespoons milk, and a pinch of salt until smooth.

Stir together first nine ingredients, holding back some milk.  The dough should be the consistency of hush puppy dough.  Add more milk as needed, without overbeating.  Fold in apples. 

Let sit while you heat about 3 inches of vegetable oil in large heavy pot until it’s 350 degrees.  Using cookie scoop, drop generous tablespoons into heated oil (no more than six at a time), and cook for 2-3 minutes, turning occasionally until browned on all sides.

Remove with slotted spoon, and once it’s stopped sizzling, drizzle glaze over fritter.  Makes about 2 dozen.

The next recipe is for a crockpot tamale dip.  It’s from Loretta Jolly, via an Albemarle Hospital co-worker.  It’s a make-and-forget game-day superstar.

Chili Cheese Dip

1 pound Velveeta cheese

1-14 ounce can Armour Chili (no beans)

1-15 ounce can Hormel beef tamales

1 medium yellow onion, minced

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon hot sauce

Throw everything into a crockpot, turn it on and bring to slow simmer.  Serve in the crockpot set to low. For service, top with shredded cheese, cover and let melt on top.

The last recipe is from family friend, Mama Cat.  She received it from her friend and fellow Coast Guard wife, Pat Csintayn.

Seafood Casserole

1 lb crab meat

1 lb cooked shrimp

1 small can mushrooms, drained

½ small green pepper, minced

½ cup minced onion

1 cup minced celery

1-6 oz box Uncle Ben’s long grain and wild rice

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup milk

½ teaspoon each, salt & pepper

Dash of Worcestershire sauce

Cook rice, add first seven ingredients.

In separate bowl, mix mayo, salt & pepper, milk, and Worcestershire.  Add to rice mixture.

Pour into buttered 2-quart casserole dish and sprinkle with bread crumbs.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.  Serves 6-8, depending on course and side dishes.

These recipes, along with some from my mom, made up the foundation of my first adulting cooking repertoire.  They’re simple and easy, but each makes an impact.

But, these dishes still hold up.  Add a fresh baguette and a simple salad, and this could be a kind of training-wheels dinner party.  Who doesn’t love a fresh apple fritter?

Or, singly, each could be a welcome respite from the familiar family food playbook.  Hunger may season all dishes, but surprise gets them to the table quicker. 

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Kitchen Remedy

There is a curse falsely attributed to an ancient Chinese sage: ‘May you live in interesting times.

It has been one heck of an interesting week at Chez Matthews.

Sunday I woke up to a water heater which had gone to the great utility room in the sky.  Tuesday we paid more than the budget of our 1983 wedding to replace it.

On Thursday while running errands, the clutch on the jeep gave up and died—in traffic.

I called The Kid for rescue, and while waiting, walked the final mile to the drug store.  In case you’ve forgotten, it was muggy, and 96.

So, Gentle Reader, when I arrived home from that ordeal: walking, waiting for a tow truck, and taking the car to the shop, I was hot, sweaty, frustrated, worried, and about as stressed as a thong on a Sumo wrestler.And, it was dinner time.

The meal I’d planned on making was both time- and labor-intensive.  I’ve been whipping this up as long as I’ve been married, and getting it ready for the oven used to take about four hours.  As my cooking skill increased, the prep time decreased, but it still took a good ninety minutes from start to stove.

The recipe was a seafood casserole I’d gotten from the matriarch of the Murphy clan, Mama Cat.

The last thing I wanted to do was to spend all that time in the kitchen chopping, and mixing, and sautéing.

Or so I thought.

When I told Petey, he said that it was fine, and he’d eat whatever I felt like making.  What I felt like was a fifth of bourbon and a gallon of dark chocolate ice cream.  And maybe a good cry in the shower.But then I really looked at Petey.  And I could tell that he’d been looking forward to Mama Cat’s dish.  It was his four-wheeled baby which broke, and he deserved some pampering.

So, after my shower, I put on some music, and got to work.

Mama Cat’s Famous Seafood Casserole

seafood cass2-6 ounce boxes original Uncle Ben’s Long Grain and Wild Rice (prepared according to directions, minus 1/2 cup water)

1 large bag frozen salad shrimp

1 white onion, chopped

1 orange bell pepper, chopped

3 stalks celery, sliced

1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced.

4 cloves minced garlic

2 tablespoons butter

½ cup white wine


cass sauce

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt & pepper

Make rice according to directions, (omitting 1/2 cup water).

While the rice is cooking, sauté all the veg except garlic, in butter on medium.  Season.  When the liquids cooked off, and vegetables are lightly caramelized, stir in garlic.  Cook 2 minutes, then pour in wine. Stir to scrape browned bits off pan. When the wine’s gone, stir together rice, shrimp, veg.

Whisk sauce together.

Put everything in a large bowl and stir until it’s all combined.

Bake at 375 for thirty minutes, covered with foil, and then thirty minutes, uncovered, on middle rack, under low broiler.

Let sit twenty minutes before service.  Serves 6 hearty eaters. That time I spent getting the dish in the oven was therapeutic.  After days of stuff I couldn’t control, there was finally something I could.  It was deeply restorative.

And thanks to the crack team at Mr. Tire, we had the jeep back, good as new, in less than 24 hours.  And we’ve got at least another dinner in leftovers.

But I’m really starting to worry about a noise the washing machine is making…Thanks for your time.